CINCINNATI (AP) Four Cardinals have hitting streaks of at least eight games. Another leads the NL in batting average. Overall, they’re the best in the league at hitting in the clutch.
It’s some formidable offense. And when they play their biggest rival, they really don’t need all that much, anyway.
Adam Wainwright pitched seven innings for his ninth win, and every Cardinals starter had a hit in a 9-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night that gave St. Louis a four-game lead in the NL Central, its biggest of the season.
Yes, it’s early. But yes, it’s impressive.
“They just get in the habit of grinding at-bats and not giving any away and realizing there’s money on the table out there,” manager Mike Matheny said.
Oh, and the pitching’s been as good as it gets, too. Wainwright (9-3) gave up two runs and seven hits as the Cardinals improved the major leagues’ best record to 40-21. Things are going so well that they try to ignore how they’ve started to give themselves a little room atop the division.
“The cardinal sin – something we should never do and have done in the past – is look up at the scoreboard and try to figure out where they are,” Wainwright said. “It’s June. We’ll look at those things later in the season.”
On this June night, they had everything going.
Slumping Pete Kozma drove in three runs, David Freese and Jon Jay knocked in two apiece, and four Cardinals extended long hitting streaks against a pitching staff in a downturn. Mike Leake (5-3) lasted only five innings for the Reds, who have given up 26 runs while losing their last three games.
St. Louis scored six of its runs with two outs, one of their hallmarks this season.
“That’s when they usually do their damage,” manager Dusty Baker said. “I’d like to find out their secret and bottle it.”
The NL Central rivalry has fallen into a pattern lately – the second-place Reds can’t score many runs. They’ve scored two or fewer in their last six games against the Cardinals, the first time that’s happened since 1974, the year before the Big Red Machine won its first World Series.
St. Louis has won the last four series between the teams and is 5-2 against Cincinnati this season.
A day after the Cardinals hit five homers for a 12-8 win over Arizona, they put together five singles in the fourth inning for all the runs they’d really need.
The Cardinals came into the game with four players on noteworthy hitting streaks. Three of them extended their streaks during the three-run rally.
Carlos Beltran led off with a single that gave him an eight-game streak. Allen Craig pushed his run to 11 games with another hit, completing a 12-pitch at-bat against Leake. Freese extended the longest active streak in the majors with an RBI single, giving him a career-best 17-game streak. Jon Jay and Kozma – in a 3-for-33 rut – followed with singles for a 3-0 lead.
When runners were in scoring position, the Cardinals delivered.
“I don’t really see what we do different other than we get hits when we need them,” said Kozma, who tied his career high with the three RBIs.
That was plenty for Wainwright, who had only one tough at-bat in the first five innings. Shin-Soo Choo drew a base on balls on his 12th pitch from Wainwright, who has walked only seven batters all season.
Jay Bruce’s RBI single ended Wainwright’s shutout in the sixth.
The only long hitting streak still in play for St. Louis got extended during a four-run sixth inning off Logan Ondrusek. Jay doubled home another run, Kozma doubled in two more, and Matt Carpenter’s RBI single made it 7-0 and extended his streak to a career-best 16 games.
Yadier Molina doubled and singled, raising the NL’s top batting average a point to .352.
NOTES: St. Louis is 21-9 on the road, best in the majors. … The Reds optioned RH Pedro Villarreal back to Triple-A Louisville, opening the way for LH Tony Cingrani to make a start next week for the injured Johnny Cueto. Villarreal struggled in his emergency start on Wednesday, a 12-4 loss to Colorado. … Switch-hitting INF Henry Rodriguez was called up. … 2B Brandon Phillips was back in the lineup after missing four games with a bruised left forearm. … LH Tyler Lyons (2-1) makes his third start for the Cardinals on Saturday against Mat Latos (5-0), who has won his last nine decisions. It’s the longest winning streak by a Reds pitcher since reliever Scott Sullivan won 10 straight decisions from 2001-02.